Wednesday marks the fifth anniversary of Amazon Prime Video launching in India. To mark the occasion, the service is planning further growth in the fiercely competitive India market with a “deep” strategy.
“There are three aspects of going deep — there is content, there is how we market it and there is distribution,” Gaurav Gandhi, country head, Amazon Prime Video India, told Variety. “We are very clear that in the world of creating originals, we have to have a diverse set of choices we make about the stories we want to tell.”
Gandhi cites the examples of successful thematically diverse originals including the cricket saga “Inside Edge,” and “Made in Heaven,” which is set in a marriage bureau, both of which were Emmy-nominated; rural gangland focused “Mirzapur”; Indian classical music based “Bandish Bandits”; independence struggle show “The Forgotten Army”; spy drama “The Family Man”; and village politics series “Panchayat” to illustrate the breadth of commissions. The service currently has some 70 shows in development.
“We made a selection of stories to widen our customer segments because heterogeneity is not just in languages, but also in age groups and taste preferences,” said Gandhi.
During the pandemic, Amazon became a pioneer in taking made-for-theatrical release Indian films and debuting them directly on the service, with 49 of them bowing so far. The strategy there too is to offer a breadth of programming ranging from the mass market oriented “Coolie No. 1” to the more cerebral “Sherni.” Cinemas have now reopened across India.
“Both from the point of view of impact, or reach, and commercially, this is a now a very viable alternative,” said Gandhi. “That said, as life goes forward, I believe both models will coexist. Movies will go to theaters and will come to us in a few weeks. We welcome that. And there will be certain movies, which will make a call to come straight to streaming, as customers’ choices and habits change.”
The marketing of the originals and films is wide, but focused, looking at taste profiles of particular shows and the segments that they cater to. “You don’t have to market everything to everyone, but when you do, it’s to that whole customer segment across the country,” said Gandhi.
On the distribution side, Prime Video has annual, monthly and quarterly plans alongside mobile-only plans, which have just been significantly increased. These are available directly from Amazon, with telecom providers or multichannel video programming distributors like Tata Sky or Jio Fiber. The service now reaches 4,500 post codes, or 99% of India’s population, Gandhi said.
“The idea is to get the Zeitgeist to the customer, to make them aware and get them into pay services like Prime Video, but do it in a manner that they feel the content for them is relevant and do it in a consistent beat,” said Gandhi.
While Gandhi declined to reveal subscriber numbers, a 2021 market report from research firm Media Partners Asia states that together, Disney Plus Hotstar (51 million), Prime Video (22.3 million) and Netflix (6.1 million) account for 80 million paying subscribers in India.
India has 23 official languages and thousands of dialects and Amazon Prime Video’s strategy from the outset was to cater to as many of them as possible. “We’ve been very focused on one thing that in this journey of entertaining India, we truly have to be a service for all of India, and not just a segment of India. And that’s why we started very early this journey of programming for 10 languages and really becoming a local service for each of those customer segments,” said Gandhi.
Prime Video is currently producing content and providing user interfaces in the Hindi, Telugu and Tamil languages and programming, subtitling and dubbing in nine languages. Gandhi points to the fact that India is underserved with just 9,000 cinema screens for a population of 1.3 billion and that streaming is now eliminating linguistic and geographic boundaries. Films that hitherto played only in their linguistic catchment areas now have national and international audiences, especially in case of the four South Indian languages of Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, Gandhi said. A case in point is Tamil-language film “Jai Bhim,” which is a pan-India success for Amazon.
“It is a journey for them [Indian audiences], to read subtitles and get used to the idea, but I think it’s also telling us the point about universal stories and how they’re able to cut across,” said Gandhi.
Inevitably, in a country as vast and opinionated as India, some raise political and religious hackles. Political drama “Tandav,” drew the ire of Hindu nationalist politicians. Since then, India has also implemented an “ethics code” governing streamers. Gandhi said that a self-regulation mechanism and a customer grievance redressal system is now operational.
Customers are empowered to reach out with grievances, the executive said. “The system is there and it is working.”
“As regards our choices that we make, we remain very, very clear that the laws of the land are what they are, and respect that and work within that,” said Gandhi. “And we balance out the customer choices and the content we put out there keeping in mind all of that.”
Meanwhile, besides the 70 originals, Gandhi says that there are “big deals across producers, across multiple languages” for films over the next few years. Cricket is one of the main drivers for rival Disney Plus Hotstar, especially the Indian Premier League. Gandhi declined to comment on whether Amazon would bid on rights for the league, which are up for auction imminently.
‘You’re Dead Hélène’ Director Michiel Blanchart and Producer Sam Raimi on Live Action Short Film Oscar Contention
The horror genre is often overlooked and underappreciated in awards spaces. That’s what makes “You’re Dead Hélène” from Michiel Blanchart, which is one of the shortlisted contenders for live action short, an exciting addition to the Oscar conversation.
After dreaming of working in the movies and making shorts with his friends while growing up in France’s countryside, Blanchart decided to go back to his native country to study in one of the best-known cinema schools in Belgium: the Institute of Media Arts. He directed several shorts both in and outside of the school curriculum during his time there, including “L’Annonce,” “Lulu” and “Dynaman,” which went on to play at multiple festivals in Belgium, two of which ended up winning the BeTVaward (at the Brussels Short Film Festival and the FIFF in Namur).
In an exclusive interview with Variety, director Blanchart and producer Sam Raimi, best known for his horror “The Evil Dead” trilogy and the Tobey Maguire-led “Spider-Man” trilogy, sit down to discuss their union for the project. The pair are planning a feature length expansion of the short film. TriStar Pictures acquired the rights to the supernatural romantic comedy “You’re Dead Hélène,” which is based on the award-winning short film written and directed by Blanchart. He will direct the feature film version, which Raimi and Rob Tapert are producing at Ghost House and Michaël Goldberg and Boris Van Gils at Playbox Pictures. Caellum Allan will oversee the project for TriStar Pictures. Romel Adam will oversee for Ghost House.
Where did you get the idea to make your short film?
Michiel Blanchart: Originally, it was supposed to be one story in an anthology about crazy break-ups, [but] I was so in love with this particular story that I forgot about all the others and wanted to spend more time with it.
Sam, what attracted you to this project?
Sam Raimi: Michiel’s manager Jerome brought the film around to a few different producers. Romel Adam at Ghost House showed it to me and I loved it. I saw the great potential as everyone does who sees it, that it could be a great feature film. It’s so entertaining and scary. It’s hard to do scary and funny and Michiel does both beautifully, building suspense and telling a romantic story in 20 minutes. So I saw this great director at work and thought, yes, let’s make a feature film. I was impressed with him on our Zoom meeting and saw that he was intelligent, funny, savvy and mostly super talented from watching the movie.
Michiel, you have worked in various spaces as a writer, director, visual effects artist and editor. Are you attracted to one aspect of filmmaking more than others?
Blanchart: I’m in love with all of it. I always loved the visual effects because it was always part of making movies that I wanted to make and the stories I wanted to tell. When I’m doing a project, I feel I love the next step of the process more than the first one. When I’m writing, I can’t wait to prep and dream about what the movie will look like. Then, when I’m shooting it, I can’t wait to edit the scene we just shot. Each step is even more fun than the last.
The horror genre is one of the most undervalued in film, especially regarding awards recognition. Can you talk about your unique relationship to the horror genre, exhibited by many beloved films over your career?
Raimi: Keep up the good work pointing out artistry and craftsmanship that goes into the genre. I think that’s one of the reasons why I like it so much. I like that it’s underappreciated. You’re probably going to spoil it for me, drawing so much attention to the craftsmanship, but I love it. It’s a place you can work and practice your craft. When you study horror films, you see what it takes to build a suspense sequence… I love the rhythm and construction of those scenes… It flows like a piece of music. It’s an endless playground to play, without having the spotlight that can make you blind.
The film is shortlisted for best live action short for the 94th Oscars. So what would it mean to be nominated in a category and space that so many revered artists and auteurs have started?
Blanchart: It’s surreal. I don’t know how to answer it because it’s been such a crazy year having meetings, having the film find success throughout the world and experiencing it from my little room here in Belgium. I just feel blessed to be here to be speaking with you, with Sam, who is one of my idols and is probably the most influential director in this genre. Making the shortlist for the Oscars is just the cherry on top. I’m so grateful. And if we don’t go any further, it’s okay because I’ve already been on such a wild ride.
Raimi: I think the exciting thing is this film announces a new artist on the scene. A strong voice in storytelling, who’s already mastered the craft in so many way. It’s almost like Spielberg or Fede Alvarez, making his “Panic Attack” short; suddenly, here’s another master storyteller, out of nowhere, and it becomes an announcement for future works to come. The birth of an artist.
Bollywood Star Shilpa Shetty Cleared on ‘Obscenity’ Charges After Awkward Kiss From Richard Gere
Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty has reportedly been cleared on charges of ‘obscenity’ 15 years after Richard Gere kissed her at an event in India.
Shetty, who is best known outside India for her 2007 appearance in reality TV series “Big Brother,” appeared on stage alongside “Pretty Woman” star Gere at an event for HIV-AIDS awareness in New Delhi, India, in March 2007.
Footage from the event showed the duo ascending the small stage together, hand in hand, before turning to face the cheering audience, with Gere planting a kiss on Shetty’s hand. Gere then put his arm around Shetty before turning to position himself in front of her, with his back to the audience, and moved to kiss her straight on. Shetty quickly turned her head so Gere instead kissed both her cheeks and enveloped her in a tight hug before they both bent to the side, with Gere continuing to enthusiastically kiss Shetty’s cheek.
The incident, which was reportedly viewed as an affront to local values, caused outrage at the time and a warrant was issued for both Shetty and Gere’s arrest on the basis of obscenity and indecency.
According to Agence France-Presse, while the charges against Gere were quickly dismissed, Shetty’s case has progressed through Mumbai’s court system over the last 15 years until last week, when it was finally discharged. According to AFP, a judge called the charges “groundless” and pointed out that the incident stemmed from Gere’s forcible actions, with the order reading: “It seems that…Shilpa Shetty is the victim of alleged act of accused No 1 [Richard Gere].”
A 2007 Reuters report quoted Shetty’s lawyer Anand Grover as saying: “The complaints are a complete abuse of the due process of law. She is being victimized because she is a well-known personality.”
Variety has reached out to Gere and Shetty’s reps for comment.